Why all the cups?


Is this really necessary?

So you were probably wondering why I was fiddling with all those tiny teacups yesterday.  (If you weren’t, you could probably use some testosterone supplements.)  When I get a new tea, I like to try brewing it at a range of times and temperatures.  This produces different “shades” of the flavor profile.  Once I tried nine simultaneous variations; I looked like Lucy wrapping chocolate.

The other day I mentioned amino acids’ and polyphenols’ roles in creating flavor.  I’ve read that polyphenols infuse into water at 80°C (176°F) and above, and amino acids at 60°C (140°F) and above.  Given this information, imagine Cup A brewing at 170°F for 3 minutes, and Cup B brewing at 212°F for 2 minutes.  Cup A will never have gotten above 176°F, so it won’t have any polyphenols.  However, it’ll have plenty of time to absorb amino acids, until it cools below 140°F, so it’ll have plenty of “body.”  Cup B will likely be hotter than 176°F for the duration, so more polyphenols are in the mix, contributing to astringency.


Any tea you can slurp, I can slurp louder...

In the case of the Huo Shan Yellow Buds from the other day, Patricia preferred the infusion steeped at 190°F for 2.5 minutes.  Given the above, this was probably the mix with the highest ratio of polyphenols.  “It had a nice antiseptic bite and vegetable overtone which was superior to the lower temperature brews.”  She found the bite was pronounced at the expense of the flavor in the brews steeped for 3.5 minutes.

I agreed that those cups steeped for longer tasted heavier, which didn’t suit the flavor.  But for me the issue of “bite” was much more complicated.  The cooler brews were a little harsh right out of the pot, but settled into a balanced flavor profile.  Meanwhile the hotter brews had less “attack” but developed more bitterness as they cooled.

I’ve been investigating the effects of brewing variables on tea taste for years and I’m still unsatisfied.  I suspect someone has figured all this out and written it down someplace I haven’t seen yet.  And with my luck, it’s in Japanese.


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